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What are the best short stories of all time? How does one measure such a thing? One might look at famous short stories, iconic short stories, but how do we define them? Are the best short stories the stories that stand the test of time? If so, what does That You mean, like, saltines and their ilk, eh? From high school English classes to postgraduate literature studies, they are probably still on every reading list. Perhaps the best short stories of all time have taken root in our minds, in our hearts, in our souls, claiming that we remember their images, their characters, their plots, the way they made us. To feel.
In an effort to keep it off my list of personal favorite short stories of all time, I sought advice from other rioters, including Ann My E Janssen, Connie Pan, Alyssa Schweinberger, Eileen Gonzalez, Chris M. Arnon, Casey Gutman, Carina Pereira, Nicki DeMarco, Jaime Hernandez, Margaret Kingsberry, Sarah Davis, Rachel Britain, Laura Saxton, Patricia Thang, Jamie Canvas, Liberty Hardy, Tika Viterius, Kelly Jenny, Kelly. You all have brilliant taste, thank you.
Despite my best efforts, I am sure I have given up one or two of the best short stories. Please forgive me, and remember: I did it on purpose.
The best short story of all time
Alphabetically according to the author’s last name.
Amy Bender’s “Quiet Please” in The Girl in the Flaming Skirt
A librarian looks to sponsors for sex on the day his father dies. NSFW!
Karen E. in The New Order. Bender’s “Where the Hidden Synagogue”
The two women are discussing what to do if there is a gunman in their synagogue. (Content alert for, well, that)
Angela Carter’s “The Fall River X Murders” at Your Boat Burning
What happens in the seconds leading up to the infamous murder of Lizzie Borden’s parents? Carter sets the scene.
“Dividing by Zero” by Ted Chiang in Your Life Story
Perhaps “The Story of Your Life” is a more obvious choice, but this story uses mathematics in such a clever way that it captures any reader’s imagination.
Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” in Awakening and Selected Stories
A woman is told of her husband’s death, and everyone fears that she will get sick – but what if this is not really bad news?
“Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros
What does it feel like to be one year older? Is eleven different than ten?
P. Diesel Clark’s “The Secret Life of George Negro’s Nine Negro Teeth”
George Washington’s teeth were not made of wood; They were stolen from slaves. Clark tells their story.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Stigma in Bohemia”
Sherlock Holmes tries to recover a picture from Irene Adler (or “female”) for a client.
“The Nutcracker and the Mouse-King” by ETA Hoffman, retold by Alexandre Dumas
A young girl saves a nut from the mouse king and her uncle Drosselmeyer tells her the story of Princess Pirlipat. Tchaikovsky’s ballet is based on the Dumas version, so it’s my choice here – but it’s nice to read a comparison between Hoffman and Dumas.
“Pre-Simulation Consultation XF007867” by Kim Fu in the lesser known 21st Century Monster
A conversation between a customer and a simulation operator and a potential customer. There are rules of simulation.
Yellow wallpaper by Charlotte Parkins Gilman
A postpartum woman’s doctor husband leaves her alone in a room that drives her away, but she knows she’s sick, not hysterical.
“A Jury of Rate Peers” by Susan Glasspell
While the sheriff is looking for evidence of murder in a mysterious death, his wife and a neighbor find it by looking at things that men think are unimportant. Based on the author’s play, Trifles.
Alex E. A practical compilation of Harrow’s Portal Fantasies
Some people come to the library looking for an escape; Some librarians only know books to push them. This story is won by Hugo and Nebula.
Shirley Jackson’s “The Summer People” in Dark Tales
Each list contains his slightly more famous story “The Lottery”, but have you read it? A couple in New York City have decided to stay a few more weeks at their summer home in Vermont, but locals don’t like it.
“The Dead” by James Joyce
Gabriel attended a family party and was annoyed by the talk he was about to give.
Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” at the Bottom of the River
A mother instructs her daughter about life in a single, 650-word sentence.
Winter Five Tuesday “Animals” by Lily King
A girl takes a live-in babysitting job and observes the lives of the adults in the house during her extra acquaintance with Jane Eyre’s heroine.
“This is Paradise” by Cristiana Kahaquila in This Is Paradise
Locals at a Hawaii resort observe tourists as they go out to celebrate.
Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Who Walks Away From Omelas”
Omelas is a utopia where everyone is happy and full, except for one child who is kept miserable. (CW: enabled language)
“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu in The Paper Menagerie
A man reflects on his childhood and the way his mother brought paper animals to life. The story has won Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy awards. It is available as read by LeVar Burton.
Shahriar Mandanipur’s “Mummy and Honey”, translated by Sara Khalili, in Season of Purgatory
A man confines his family to a house that is crumbling, filled with opium smoke, and a hungry viper hiding on the floor.
“Mansion on the Hill” by Rick Moody
Andrew’s sister died accidentally just before her marriage, and her memories of him are intertwined with her thoughts about her job.
“Spider the Artist” by Nnedi Okorafor
A woman from an unhappy marriage takes comfort in her guitar and makes a strange new friend through her music.
Welcome to your authentic Indian experience রে by Rebecca Ronhors
You work in experience, tourists give them a choice – most of them want a Vision Quest. But one of them wants more. Available as read by LeVar Burton!
Karen Russell’s “The Prospectus”
The two girls attend a party at a remote ski lodge where they discover that they are the only surviving guests.
“Robert Greenman and the Mermaid” in all the names used for God by Anjali Sachdeva
An insomniac fisherman meets a mermaid and loses interest in her life on the shore.
“Two Says — With Love and Scholar” by JD Salinger in Nine Stories
One man recalls a time when he was going to be deployed in World War II and met a young woman who corresponded with him.
Robert Silverberg’s “The Werewolf Gambit” in The Ultimate Werewolf
A man claims to be a waswolf to get a date to come home with her, and is surprised when she readily agrees.
“Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts” by Anthony Vesna at Afterparties
A woman and her daughters run a donut shop 24 hours a day. A customer comes in every night, buys an apple fritter, and sits for an hour without eating it.
Barbara Williamson “waiting outside” at Sherlock Holmes through time and space
The children’s parents have taken their books, but one book is still hidden, and they plan to use it.
F. The Barrence. Paul Wilson’s “The Barrence”
A woman from Pine Barnes reluctantly agreed to bring an old college friend to Barnes to study the Jersey Devil. (CW: Highly dated male-female-female nonsense, but not irresistible, in my opinion)
How the strategy is done by AC Wise in The Ghost Sequence
The sorcerer is shot every night, and every night he is alive, until one night he returns.
“Standard Loneliness Package” by Charles U.
The narrator’s job is to feel the pain of other people, but one day he hopes to buy himself a better life.
Roger District’s “The Slipper” on the Wild Card
This is the only story I’ve included that doesn’t really stand alone. Whenever Croyd Cranson goes to sleep, he hibernates and wakes up in a new form, with new powers.
Where to find more great short stories
If you’re looking for the best short story of all time, but don’t know where to start, can I recommend starting with a variety of short story prizes? There are Hugos and Nebulas for SFF, not to mention the World Fantasy Award; Shirley Jackson Award, Stoker, Edgar and O. Henry; Ignyte and Locus. Then there are anthologies such as The Longlist Anthology, Years Best Science Fiction and the Pushkart Prize. And of course, there are a few more lessons for you in our short story archives – or see below to find out more of the best short stories of all time.